Wally Funk, a 82-year-old woman pilot, will join Jeff Bezos in travelling to space this month on the first crewed spaceflight for the billionaire’s company Blue Origin, the firm announced Thursday.
Funk will become the oldest person ever to fly to space when she takes part in the July 20 journey aboard the New Shepard launch vehicle along with Bezos, his brother Mark and the unnamed winner of an auction for another seat on the aircraft.
Bezos’ space flight
Bezos, who announced earlier this year he is stepping down as Amazon’s chief executive to spend more time on other projects including Blue Origin, has said it was a lifelong dream to fly into space.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard has successfully carried out more than a dozen uncrewed test runs from its facility in Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains.
“We’re ready to fly some astronauts,” said Blue Origin’s director of astronaut and orbital sales, Ariane Cornell, on Saturday.
The reusable suborbital rocket system was named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space 60 years ago.
The automated capsules with no pilot have six seats with horizontal backrests placed next to large portholes, in a futuristic cabin with swish lighting. Multiple cameras help immortalise the few minutes the space tourists experience weightlessness.
Private space race
Blue Origin’s maiden crewed flight comes in a context of fierce competition in the field of private space exploration — with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, all jostling for pole position.
Bezos has a very public rivalry with Musk, whose SpaceX is planning orbital flights that would cost millions of dollars and send people much further into space.
SpaceX has already begun to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and is a competitor for government space contracts.
Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, hopes to begin regular commercial suborbital flights in early 2022, with eventual plans for 400 trips a year.
Some 600 people have booked flights, costing $200,000 to $250,000 — and there has been talk of Branson himself taking part in a test flight this summer, although no date has been set.